The Asheville community has been involved in "green" and "eco-friendly" sustainable practices for many years. Efforts have preserved more than a million acres of mountain landscape surrounding the city via state and national parks and forests, along with land saved from development by conservancy groups. Kudos to this top 20 list of places, people and resources that have accomplished much for all visitors and residents to enjoy. Please see and support these.
1. Pisgah National Forest: The half million acres of the Pisgah National Forest surrounding Asheville features some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery and the best recreational opportunities in eastern North America. The Pisgah National Forest is a large forest that covers much of the north and central western mountains of North Carolina. It is home to many waterfalls and many miles of hiking trails to favorite spots such as Looking Glass Rock, Black Balsam, and Devil's Courthouse. Pisgah National Forest is also home to Cradle of Forestry in America, the site of the first forestry school in America founded in 1898 by chief forester for George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate. It's a great place to learn about the history of forestry.
2. Blue Ridge Parkway: Along this route an unsurpassed diversity of climate zones, vegetation zones, physiographic zones, and geological features are traversed. The more than 81,000 acres of Parkway lands pass through a highland area of five degrees longitude and approximately 3 degrees latitude, making it the third largest unit of the National Park Service in terms of area covered. Park resources include 400 streams and 47 Natural Heritage Areas (areas set aside as national, regional or state examples of exemplary natural communities). With an elevation range of 5,700 feet the Parkway provides a home for both southern species at the lower elevations and northern species on the mountaintops. Taking advantage of this diversity are 14 major vegetation types, about 1,250 vascular plant species (50 threatened or endangered), and almost 100 species of non-native plants. Nearly 100 species of trees grow along the Parkway, about as many as are found in all of Europe. Added to that are estimates of almost 400 species of mosses and nearly 2,000 species of fungi. 54 different mammals, more than 50 salamanders and 40 reptiles can be found on Parkway lands. 159 species of birds are known to nest here with dozens of others passing through during fall and spring migrations. See our Blue Ridge Parkway Guide.
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 520,976 acres to explore. This International Biosphere Reserve is home to rugged mountains and 100,000 different types of plants and animals. No other area of equal size in a temperate climate can match the park's amazing diversity of plants, animals, and invertebrates. Over 10,000 species have been documented in the park: Scientists believe an additional 90,000 species may live here. The park is the largest federally protected upland landmass east of the Mississippi River. The Great Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world, formed perhaps 200-300 million years ago. Some 100 species of native trees find homes in the Smokies, including one of the largest blocks of deciduous, temperate, old-growth forest remaining in North America. Over 1,500 additional flowering plant species have been identified in the park. The park is the center of diversity for lungless salamanders and is home to more than 200 species of birds, 66 types of mammals, 50 native fish species, 39 varieties of reptiles, and 43 species of amphibians. Mollusks, millipedes, and mushrooms reach record diversity here. See our Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide.
4. DuPont State Forest: The DuPont State Forest is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains between Hendersonville and Brevard, a short drive from Asheville. Its 10,400 acres of forest feature four major waterfalls on the Little River and several on the Grassy Creek. Portions of the forest formerly contained a manufacturing facility for the production of photographic film. The original 7,600 acre forest was established in 1996 through a generous bargain sale from the DuPont Corporation. In 2000, the Forest was expanded by two property additions, including the spectacular 2,200 acre tract in the center of the Forest containing High Falls, Triple Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls (saved from real estate development). See our Dupont Forest Waterfall Guide.
5. Chimney Rock State Park: Our newest state park continues to grow and preserve the scenic Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure area near Asheville. Chimney Rock State Park includes the famous Chimney Rock (operated by a private contractor and open year-round). Entry fees offset the cost of operating this popular tourist destination. Currently, Chimney Rock is the only public access within the greater Chimney Rock State Park. However, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation will eventually develop other areas of the state park with more traditional park facilities and recreation. The greater Chimney Rock State Park currently encompasses roughly 3,500 acres on both north and south sides of the gorge and expansion efforts continue to bring more of the gorge’s rich natural resources into conservation. Ultimately, a master plan for the entire park will be devised to fully protect the natural heritage and offer outdoor recreation options.
6. Outdoor Fun: Through many private/public partnerships, you can enjoy the great outdoors with hiking, rafting, biking, fishing, camping, birding, wildflowers and more. See our big list of outdoor attractions and guides.
7. NC Arboretum: The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville is a 434-acre public garden in the Pisgah National Forest. Surrounded by the dense folds of the botanically diverse Southern Appalachian Mountains, the Arboretum is nestled in one of the most beautiful natural garden settings in America. Although the idea for the arboretum stretches back to landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1898, who wished to create an arboretum at the nearby Biltmore Estate, today's arboretum was established by the General Assembly relatively recently, in 1986, as a facility of the University of North Carolina. In 1989 the site was officially designated the North Carolina Arboretum. See our NC Arboretum Guide.
9. Land Preservation Groups: We have many land conservancy and protection groups in the area that protect the world's oldest mountains for the benefit of present and future generations with successful grassroots campaigns, including Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, RiverLink, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Mountain Voices and Save our Slopes campaign. Read more our many conservancy groups .
10. Helpers for the National Parks: Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Friends of the Smokies are two great groups working to preserve our two nearby national parks. They are always looking for volunteers and donations!
11. Green Condos & Homes: Many new buildings in Asheville are following the guidelines of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Certification. Many of the new downtown condos have many green features.
12. WNC Green Building Council: WNCGBC is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote environmentally sustainable and health conscious building practices through community education. Their main goal is to educate homeowners, builders and architects on the benefits of creating energy efficient buildings, increased use of alternative energy sources, sustainable development, using green building materials, decreasing use of natural resources, preserving topsoil and trees and reducing storm water runoff.
13. Appalachian Offsets: This program of the Western North Carolina Green Building Council is a voluntary Carbon Offset program to combat global climate change through local renewable energy and efficiency projects in Western North Carolina.
14. Warren Wilson College: Warren Wilson College is No. 3 among Sierra Magazine's "10 Coolest Schools" nationwide in the fight against global warming. Their environmental studies program, through academic courses, abundant natural resources on and near campus, and related work crews, balances theory, first-hand knowledge, and field experiences.
15. Blue Ridge Biofuels: Blue Ridge Biofuels is an employee owned business that produces and distributes biodiesel for Asheville and Western North Carolina. They currently supply biodiesel for eight publicly accessible biodiesel pumps in the greater Asheville region, deliver bulk on and off road biodiesel, provide BioHeat as a replacement to heating oil, and provide waste cooking oil removal services in western North Carolina.
16. Healthy Built Homes Certification: NC HealthyBuilt Homes is a voluntary, statewide green building certification program supported by the North Carolina Solar Center, the State Energy Office, Home Builder Associations, and other professional building organizations. The WNC Green Building Council (WNCGBC) and the Asheville Home Builder Association (AHBA) offer the NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program to builders in the Greater Asheville Area.
17. Organicfest: A celebration of everything organic and green. A festive day of live music, organic food and drink, organic and green goods, informative info on organic cooking, gardening, shopping and fun activities for kids of all ages in September in Downtown Asheville.
18. Green Building Directory: Whether you're a homeowner, builder, green-technology geek or tree-hugger, this guide explains "green," or environmentally conscious, building and offers guidelines and resources. See the Green Building Directory.
19. Mother Earth News Fair: Held in April each year with sustainable workshops, demos and vendors. See our Mother Earth News Fair Guide.
20. EnergyXchange Studio: See art and craft being created at perhaps the first studios to be fueled by landfill methane gas! The furnaces and glory holes in the glass studio burn year round while the pottery kiln is fired every week or two. Methane gas is also used to heat water for an in-floor radiant heat system to warm the studios. Read more about EnergyXchange Studio.